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Department of Physics

Staff profile

Publication details for Prof Richard Bower

Balogh, M.L., Baldry, I.K., Nichol, R., Miller, C., Bower, R. & Glazebrook, K. (2004). The Bimodal Galaxy Color Distribution: Dependence on Luminosity and Environment. The Astrophysical Journal 615(2): L101-L104.

Author(s) from Durham


We analyze the u - r color distribution of 24,346 galaxies with Mr ≤ -18 and z < 0.08, drawn from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey first data release, as a function of luminosity and environment. The color distribution is well fitted with two Gaussian distributions, which we use to divide the sample into a blue and red population. At fixed luminosity, the mean color of the blue (red) distribution is nearly independent of environment, with a weakly significant (~3 σ) detection of a trend for colors to become redder by 0.1-0.14 (0.03-0.06) mag with a factor of ~100 increase in local density, as characterized by the surface density of galaxies within a ±1000 km s-1 redshift slice. In contrast, at fixed luminosity the fraction of galaxies in the red distribution is a strong function of local density, increasing from ~10%-30% of the population in the lowest density environments to ~70% at the highest densities. The strength of this trend is similar for both the brightest (-23 < Mr < -22) and faintest (-19 < Mr < -18) galaxies in our sample. The fraction of red galaxies within the virialized regions of clusters shows no significant dependence on velocity dispersion. Even at the lowest densities explored, a substantial population of red galaxies exists, which might be fossil groups. We propose that most star-forming galaxies today evolve at a rate that is determined primarily by their intrinsic properties and independent of their environment. Any environmentally triggered transformations from blue to red colors must occur either on a short timescale or preferentially at high redshift to preserve the simple Gaussian nature of the color distribution. The mechanism must be effective for both bright and faint galaxies.